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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  February 26, 2013 12:00am-12:30am PST

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with iconic musician taj mahal. after making music for 50 years now, part bluesman, apart america on line routes authority. it includes 15 cds, 170 tracks as well as previously unreleased material. we are glad you joined us. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminating hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s.
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as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: taj mahal's eclectic career braces blues, jazz, americana. nine grammy nominations. he has been on a musical odyssey. that journey can be heard now in a new boxed set that includes 15
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cds, 170 tracks. here is a small taste of this remarkable compilation. >> ♪ if i ever get out of this prison, i am going to do just like i please ♪ ♪ i am going to take off running to the nearest stretch of trees ♪ ♪ i am going to keep running, running, running through the years bunch of trees -- the nearest bunch of trees ♪ ♪ i am going to be running through these trees ♪ ♪daddy going to be running so fast it looks like daddy been running on his knees ♪ tavis: you just mentioned daddy, and i think that is a great way to start. tell me about your daddy's
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record collection. >> he is an interesting guy. my grandparents came here about 100 years ago and started having children in new york city. my dad was born in 1915, and everybody is going to notice you have an african american background and you're supposed to be predisposed to playing rhythm, so if you learn to play classically boehner you can really play music. there is no rigid than they know you can really play music. -- if you learn to play classically, then they know you can play music. my father grew up in the era when music was transitioning. everybody was transitioning. he met my mother just after ella fitzgerald had "a tisket a
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tasket." when they got together, he quit being a composer and a copy of four events -- a copyist for bands. he talked to my mother, and she said, what you want to do? he said, i want a big family. she said, i am a college girl. i want to go back to school and continue my education. he said, that is cool, but let me be able to keep up with the music, and we will be able to have zero albums and a way to play it. -- to have some albums and a way to play it. not hearing music from them, your music from their friends, they used to come over. by the time i was -- as a young person, they were in their 30's.
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they were still young. they were moving everything. having potlucks. everybody comes over with food, and they would party. they would come out dancing with all that action all the time, so hearing the music, and nat king , i was 7 years old. my favorite song, i would sing and body and soul by coleman hawkins, and everything would be better. i did not know how different it was from other kids.
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tavis: what is it that calmed you? >> it filled me with spirits -- with music that it was going to be all right. ♪ what did that say to you then? how did you come to the realization music was pregnant with that kind of power? >> it was everywhere. there are three distinct areas. people have been going up and down the river from new orleans. arkansas to tennessee, of the river to chicago, of the river to detroit. there was an east coast moment. they went to philadelphia. one was in delaware. all that kind of stuff, and all those people came top.
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this is the southern bunch of people, southern and caribbean people. it was all about music. you would be in your backyard playing marbles with your friend. i am serious. in the kitchen is some hairdressing salon. she says, hold your hair straight. bb king would be wearing you out. this is what i knew. the city was called american international college. we have international people coming from africa, the west indies. eight or nine years old, i would go to the door because the door would not, and my father would tell me to go, and i opened the
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door, and the guy says, good evening. i turnaround and holler, and there is this guy from liberia. someone told him my father was a good place to hang out, and i got to hang out. nine, 10 years old, africans coming from senator dodd, west indies. -- coming from senate called -- senegal, west indies. my brother discovered a piece of furniture that behind, anti -- when he turned it around, and insure full of manuscripts falls out. -- a drawer full of manuscripts
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falls out. we take it to some friends. >> stuff your dad wrote? >> just discovered. this is like a message, not even a message in a bottle. tavis: a message in a couch. is it the kind of stuff you think could be played so many years later by his son? >> i will tellou what. there is a record called recycling the blues. i am saying this. remember, recycling the blues is 1972, 1973. on that record i discovered
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work, and there is a song were a play bass and sing. -- where i play bass and sing. i had them sing with me. the line they had, far below the norma. but as a piece of my father. my mother was crying that i remember that. at seven years old you hear the car pull up at night. he would whistle of the stairs and now the same notes, and she would whistled down the stairs, and who knew what happened after that? >> when mom and dad are whistling harmony.
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>> to tell him he has the story for me. that was some different stuff. tavis: your dad passed away when you were how old? >> 11 going on to 12. >> i read that. i wonder how that impacted you. any child is going to grieve, maybe even for life, but your dad was the person who turned you on to music. >> it was pretty heavy. this is why i want people to give me grief about the a northerner and loving the blues. but died peas and corn bread, you name isn't a rigid black eyed peas and corn bread, you name it. she would put some sugar in it, and that would take care of
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anything. growing up in that environment made me really need something, and that is where the blues as something being able to sue the year in bad shape and get you over -- sooth you. that is what the blues did to me. i did not realize it at the time. it was in the music, like somebody took a dollar and put it in a bassie song. when the blues came in, guitar music, and everybody was listening to it, and you could feel it. southern girls do a lot of dancing. they did not know what that was,
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of but the blues is really what helped me, and also agriculture, connecting myself to the land and understanding what it was about. had it not been for modernization of agriculture, i would have problems. tavis: i want to hear about how you got on this path. i want to ask one more question about your father. well your father got a chance to see you play, it was the experience of losing your father that open you up to the music. >> to really see what was happening, the commercialization of music, it took people's mind off the cultural, forward movement of music.
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because the door was closed, lots of people were brought to the united states. if you go to africa, they can go back to a thousand years. the music is still filled with all the changes. they can get to some point where they start hearing gospel. that is the backdrop. the importance of what i saw from my perspective is the importance of our music. that is a cultural thing. it is the most important thing there is. i would love to have big hits. this is the music. we were lucky enough to be stubborn and not to say this is about the music. >> your dad turned you on to it as a kid. for a long time it was not about
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music, per se. you have plans of being a farmer. tell me about that. >> i looked of the movements of africans in western civilization, and one of the reasons we are here is because of the propensity we had to agriculture, architecture, and many things we were brought here for, which you do not get to hear about in this history in the united states, so i was saying, i am not interested -- i have seen my father take a day job, he eventually worked up the brass foundry and eventually firestone tires, every kind of
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tyre you can imagine, and that is what he did. i saw him always working to bring home a check to take care of his family, but somebody else held the keys to whether we live or did not or whether he lived or not. i am not going to let that happen. at least my family is eating. i love music. i want to play music on saturday. open up the farm. come on down. bring your guitar. tavis: when did you find out farming was not the way you wanted to go and all this musical talents you hadn had to come out? >> i cannot say this was the exact day, but i remember
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sitting at class at the university of massachusetts school of agriculture, and this e youas trying to tell mai could put poisonous ammonium nitrate on the soil, and that would make the plant grow and raise the yield, and i am sitting there saying, it is going to be like a vein of to the sun, and the sun is coming into the plant, and photosynthesis is drawing this energy of there. -- up there. how is it when i eat the plant i am not going to eat poison? these people are crazy. this is nuts. we started talking about it, and no one seemed to hear me. you're putting poison in the
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ground. tavis: you put poison in the ground. >> i said, no. see, i told you. i put my arms around you before. come on in. tavis: here we are all these years later. tell me how special it feels to have this election out. is do have been around long enough and halves of box set. 15 cds, -- and to have a box said. 15 cds, most people are lucky enough to have a record out. you have a box set. the packaging is gorgeous. i love what is in it. what do you make of this thought set now? >> -- of this boxed set?
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>> i have a wonderful person who looks over my shoulders. with everybody together, management and the people with the website, we got together, and they passed a lot of stuff, so we had opinions on it. some friends of mine were taking some great pictures back in they said, we have these pictures in california. i said, i guess i was doing it. tavis: columbia is happy you are doing it. every record on the inside -- it is repackaged, but the original album cover is on each of these. >> the first album cover and the
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last album cover. the first one i have nothing to do with it. "the house of the rising sun." that came out in the 1990's. out of all of them, that is the man. ry cooder is the man. every time i heard somebody was supposed to be somebody, it all fell away when i heard him. after that, every album cover i was involved in, this was downtown l.a. somewhere, and i said, i am going to take a picture of it and sit right out in front of it. this is available as a beautiful print. tavis: this piece of art. >> that scared a lot of people.
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tavis: i am looking at this. what all do you have someon? >> a ukulele. tavis: what else do you have? >> a six-stringed banjos with an up.ra lows set u set- ♪ my friend from mississippi said, which is that yours? that is a devilish instrument. tavis: how did you become proficient at so many instruments? >> i look at them like people you have not heard from in a long time.
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i like to -- ♪ [laughter] tavis: you are killing it. >> the line in the song says, were the ghosts of mississippi meets the gods of africa. that is 1 foot over here and 1 foot over there. tavis: i want to go back to the
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ukulele. it is not often you see negroes play the ukulele. i want to go back to that. >> ♪ you cornfed whose midwestern girl, you drive me out of my world ♪ comet makes the big daddy back to you ♪ ♪ a big tractor and a corn field ♪ ♪ that makes big daddy come home to you ♪ ♪ and then you ♪ and then i will ♪ and then we will ♪ tell me baby now going to love you all
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mignight ♪ ♪ that is what brings big daddy home to you ♪ that is what he took to writing songs on. tavis: you are a bad man. >> you are the bad man. tavis: the box set from taj mahal is called "taj mahal: the complete columbia albums collection." 15 cds. i am pleased to have this as part of my collection, and i hope you will be, too. i am just as pleased to have a chance to speak with you and have a conversation. >> my pleasure. i have been looking forward to it. i have been paying attention to you. you have your own mind, and a lot of people do not have their
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own mind. tavis: i get in trouble for it. i am just trying to represent. that is our show for tonight. thanks for watching. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with gavin newsom about how the digital revolution can transform democracy. that is next time. we will see you then. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day
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by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminating hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. thank you. >> be more.
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